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Rabies vaccination being air-dropped over Erie & Niagara counties

Erie County Health Department

A campaign to curb rabies amongst raccoons in Erie and Niagara County begins Wednesday, with some help from above.

The Erie County Department of Health is working with Cornell University and the USDA to distribute bait filled with the vaccine OnRab. Helicopters and airplanes will drop the vaccine over targeted wooded areas, while county personnel distributes it on foot in urban and suburban locations.

The effort is part of an area-wide Wildlife Oral Rabies Vaccination Program. It was slated to begin on Monday, but weekend weather delayed this year's start.

Senior Public Health Sanitarian Peter Tripi of the Erie County Department of Health explained that the vaccine comes in a vanilla-scented, wax-coated oral pellet, designed to lure raccoons.

Tripi said this type of bating has been going on for years, and is seeing what looks like success.

“We have seen a reduction in some rabid activity in raccoons over the last couple of years,” said Tripi, “But it’s kind of hard to tell in a county like Erie because we have multiple borders. You can’t hit every wooded area, you can’t hit every border, and the raccoons travel, so they still come in through our county. So rabid raccoons are always going to be a concern.”

So far in 2015, Erie County has seen only eight cases of rabid raccoons. That’s up from last year’s total of six, but down from nine in 2013, and 17 in 2012. Tripi said the baiting program is worthwhile.

Credit Erie County Department of Health
Erie County Department of Health

Even though the targeted areas are mostly set away from populated regions, there is always the chance that winds can carry it off course during the air drops. There is limited concern over danger to residents, but certain precautions do need to be followed.

“If for some reason you find one in your back yard and it’s undisturbed, you can just go ahead and pick it up with rubber gloves, throw it in the garbage or toss it back into the wooded area,” said Tripi. “If for some reason it looks like an animal chewed on it, do not handle it with your bare hands. Dispose of it with a shovel in the garbage and then clean up with a bleach and water solution.”

Residents should wash their hands immediately if they do come in contact with the bait. Tripi also instructs that if you see the planes or helicopters flying above, keep children and pets away from the area.

If a pet should come into contact with the bait, Tripi said it won’t be especially harmful.

“If a dog were to eat one of the vaccinations, it should not hurt it. If they were to eat a bunch of it, it may make it sick,” said Tripi. “However we’d still recommend that if you know your animal was chewing on it, to contact your veterinarian just to be on the safe side.”

He instructs that if a pet is found to have had the bait in its mouth, contact with that animal’s saliva should be avoided for 24 hours.

As long as weather permits, distribution of the bait is expected to begin Wednesday, and could continue for up to a week. More information on the Rabies Vaccination Program is available here.

More information on Rabies from the Erie County Division of Environmental Health is available at their website.

Avery began his broadcasting career as a disc jockey for WRUB, the University at Buffalo’s student-run radio station.
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